People seldom truly post the full extent of what they believe on social media. That’s true for a lot of reasons. I’m going to reflect, more indirectly than normal, on that fact, why it is, and how social media affects how people do or don’t state what they believe. That’s a big topic, and I’m only going to skirt a few general issues and concepts.
My first foray, is to say that I believe, and hope, that the main reason most people don’t post the full extent of what they believe on social media is that they are polite. They don’t want to offend others by saying extreme things that others will feel compelled to object to and respond to. They reserve their comments to things that others can agree to in polite social commentary.
And these same people, when they do choose to foray into debatable areas, don’t choose the most extreme points of difference to discuss. Those interested in a dialogue usually don’t start with their most extreme positions either. Like any campaign, one usually starts on the borders before making forays into the heartland. If you aim directly for someone’s core beliefs, you can expect and extreme response. The polite person will try to find less drastic and dramatic ways to persuade someone. Polite people also learn to find ways to agree to disagree.
Another reason, foray two, that people don’t post the full extent of what they believe on social media, is the contraction of their various social personas. Each of us has multiple personas: employee, parent, spouse, church member, etc. Outside of social media, those personas tend to be separate, we present a different face to each of them. We aren’t being deceptive when we do this, but fulfilling the various roles required of us to make our lives and our society function successfully.
Social media, by its nature, contracts these. People from each of our various personas get to see all the items we post on social media. Did I really need to see my coworkers live post on Facebook where she was putting on her “face” before going to the grocery store? Yet that items goes to everyone, not just the closer friends that such an items is intended form. That is a rather innocuous item, but it portrays the difficulties of using social media effectively.
When our personas contract, we have to make the decision which persona, or parts of personas, we portray on social media. This lends us to weigh which persona’s influence is most important to our lives, and being able to continue to live the way we want to.
Many of us weigh our work situation, our work persona, and one of the most influential. For many of us, this has the influence of actually hiding our work influence from social media. I am going through a significant event currently at my place of work, but because work frowns on anything said by its employees on social media without the approval of their own public relations bureau, this significant facet of my life will never make an appearance in social media.
It also means that anything in my other personas, that I think work might look upon negatively, or that might negatively affect my work environment, are unlikely to show up in my social media anywhere. Employers have this significant impact on their employees social media presence. We may object all we want to this form of indirect “control” but if there is any chance our behavior might be linked to our employer, they will do their best to control it, and prevent the damage it might cause their business reputation. For savvy businesses today know how social media can have a quick and detrimental impact on them.
Another reason, foray three, that people don’t post the full extent of what they believe, is more negative: they don’t want to draw the attention of certain people who will use what they say against them to destroy their lives. I am not talking about just on social media either. People will use items mentioned on social media to get them fired from their employers, or to get people to actually physically attack them or stalk their families.
These trolls and attack personalities are one of the banes of social media. They know they are right, and nothing you say can persuade them otherwise. They will stop at nothing to destroy the people they disagree with. Many of these people fit in the category of “Social Justice Warriors”, but others are just plain mean, domineering personalities. You don’t want to draw their attention.
Some people have enough insulation to ignore their influence, but most of us are quite aware of how vulnerable we are.
Most people have special communities in social media, private groups, like on Facebook, where they share more “extreme” views than they do in general, with people of like persuasion. But even here, the rules of “don’t share anywhere else”, can be vulnerable to the troll that comes in disguise to try and break the group and destroy the people who disagree with them.
I’ll call this item foray four, though it might be in a slightly different category. Sometimes we go overboard in stating things more than what we believe, just for the shock value.
A small example was this site for women that put up two stories: things wives should never do in front of their husbands, things husbands should never do in front of their wives. The gist of the stories made sense, but as I read them, the ridiculous extremes about how preachy they were about things like men belching, showed the way social media makes many people take more extreme positions than they otherwise might. Extremes draw bigger responses — and it is the size of the response, more than the what or why of the response, that is the main thing for many people on social media.
The overarching truth of this situation, is that none of us intend for all of our views to be available to all of the people we know, much less people we don’t know who might disagree with them. The contraction of personas is a dilemma of social media that most of us are still dealing with, and we only subconsciously are aware of how it is changing how we interact and reveal ourselves to others.
I personally had a policy to not have Facebook friends that were coworkers, and only friended them after we were no longer coworkers. I still don’t invite coworkers to be friends, but found myself in a quandary about what to do when certain coworkers invited me to be friends. They started finding me through the common friends we had, and inviting me. So if someone invited me, I accepted them.
(I should mention, my no-coworker policy was for co-workers who lived in my same geographic locale. I always encouraged ones who lived in other locales, especially cross-cultural ones, because I was always for increasing cross-cultural understanding. Sometimes it seems they and I understand each other better on social media than the people of my same geographic location and social milieu.)
Personally, this contraction of personas has two major impacts. First, it makes me consider what and how I post, being aware that everyone, from all personas, will see what I say. Second, it makes me express more compassion towards others and their social media postings. If a posting isn’t meant to be for me — the social persona that I share with the person — I need to allow the person the freedom to express that view, and not let it adversely impact the persona that I do share with them.
I think that second principle is one that some people — especially the troublemakers and self-righteous — are unable to comprehend. To ignore certain items, to live and let live, is not in their nature. Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a part of ours. Ultimately, it is a part of civility and civil discourse that will be essential if social media is ultimately to survive as social discourse, instead of a division of camps.
As a final note, I am trying to find a reference I have a vague memory of, something from the Orient, about how people in their densely populated society have the polite tendency to avoid any accidental glimpses of nudity, as if they didn’t see them or didn’t exist. Social Media is similarly a crowded, densely populated society including everyone, and we need to exercise this same tendency to ignore certain things rather than let them upset the true social decorum and discourse that is social media’s greatest strength.